AFC Bournemouth under-18s’ recent showings have given coach Alan Connell a “confident” feeling in his side as pre-season reaches a climax.
The Cherries youngsters have faced a star-studded schedule since reporting back in June, with several highly-rated academies faced.
A pre-season opener against Arsenal at their London Colney headquarters set the tone and, despite a 3-1 defeat, it was an impressive workout for the under-18s.
That has been the goal for Connell over the previous five weeks, telling afcb.co.uk: “I’m pleased with where the players are physically.
“We’ve worked them really hard and in all of the games we’ve played, I think we’ve looked quite strong and powerful both in and out of possession.
“Technically, we could improve in our build-up and probably in the final third.
“Every coach wants more in the final third, but I feel like we’re creating a lot at the moment and not quite making the most of those opportunities.”
He added: “With continued work, I’m confident that will come with the quality that we have though.
“Results wise, they’ve been mixed but that’s not the main focus in pre-season. So overall, I know where we’re at and we need to improve.”
The Rangers U18 Invitational Cup followed the Gunners friendly, with the strong set-ups of the Gers and Middlesbrough in opposition.
Two wins from two with three goals scored and none conceded ensured a successful trip to Glasgow for the club’s youngsters.
Since returning, defeats to Birmingham City and Chelsea have followed before drawing with Watford and losing to Reading in the second triangular tournament of pre-season.
“We always want to stretch them,” Connell commented on the schedule. “We want to give the boys different types of games and challenges; I think we’ve achieved that with our pre-season.
“We want to test ourselves against the best because the first team are doing that this season in the best and most competitive league in the world.
“You look at people like Jaidon Anthony that have come through with us and as part of their development, they would have played against these top academies as well.
“We have to prepare the players as best we can, which means giving them a really diverse and well-rounded games programme.”
The under-18s’ pre-season schedule comes to a close this Saturday with a different sort of challenge for the Cherries.
Southern League Premier South side Wimborne Town host Connell’s team at New Cuthbury (12pm kick-off), which is a challenge which excites the under-18s coach.
He said: “We’ve had a mixed pre-season and playing a men’s first team that are playing at a competitive level is going to be a really tough test for the boys.
“It’s one that I’m excited to see us in though, in what will be a different type of game to a standard academy fixture.”
A week on from the test against the Magpies, the young Cherries get their EFL Youth Alliance campaign underway against Exeter City at Canford Park Arena on 6th August (11am kick-off).
“It’d be great if anyone can come along to that before the Aston Villa first-team game,” Connell explained.
“We’ve played Exeter a lot over the years and I’m sure that it will be a difficult game, as it always is.
“It’s important that we start with the right mentality and try and start the league campaign as best we can.
“Obviously, at the end of it, we want to be making sure the players have proven they’re at a level to progress with their careers.”